Let me say this right up front: Were you ever kissed, is not a question you expect to hear from a rabbi in a devar Torah. But I do mean the question sincerely, were you ever kissed? I’m not asking if you were ever kissed by your parents, grandparents, children, siblings, or partner. I am asking if you were ever kissed by your deep dark secrets, the ones you conceal from everyone but you?
Now, I’ve thrown you for a loop. How in the world can our dark secrets kiss us? Well let me tell you a story and help you understand.
Our patriarch Jacob was returning home after 36 years of being away. He had fled home when he got word that his brother Esau was planning to kill him in revenge for stealing the blessings that their father Isaac meant for Esau. Now that he was finally returning, he sent word to find out if his brother had forgiven him. But that was not to be. Esau was marching against him with an army of four-hundred men.
This led to a scurry of preparations on Jacob’s part, but the dreaded day eventually arrived. Esau was approaching at the head of his army, and Jacob stood waiting for him at the head of his family. As Esau approached Jacob bowed before him seven times and, at this moment, something snapped in Esau’s heart. The heart that had been crusted over with hate for decades melted, and Esau hugged and kissed Jacob.
This should have been a moment to celebrate for eternity. The clash of titans had been averted. Yet, our sages quickly poured cold water on Esau’s change of heart. Our sages noted that in the Torah scroll the words, “And he kissed him,’ are dotted. That means that there is a dot over every letter in the word. This clues us into the fact that something was not entirely kosher with Esau’s kiss. After all, one need not be a rocket scientist to figure out that if your life long enemy kisses you, something is amiss.
Our sages offered two explanations. The first is that Esau did not kiss Jacob with a complete heart. He felt overcome in the moment, but he kissed him with some reserve. The other explanation is that though there is a permanent rule that Esau hates Jacob, in this case, Esau was fully overcome and kissed Jacob with a full heart. He would later revert to his old self, but for now, his love was complete, authentic, sincere.
Now here is where we come to the part where I ask my unusual question, were you ever kissed.
The Inner Esau
I have written many times that the Torah doesn’t tell us stories just to entertain us. Every story in the Torah is a lesson. If Esau and Jacob had a showdown and Esau ended up kissing his brother, there must be some way in which this story helps us in our daily lives.
Indeed, we each have an inner Esau and Jacob. The Esau is the broken part of us that draws us to things and mood swings that are unhealthy for us. Most normal humans are driven on occasion by some form of inner demon. It can be an obsession, an addiction, a depression, a mood swing, an attraction, a temptation, something that drives us to impulses that are harmful to us. At every turn, our inner Jacob wrestles with our inner Esau.
Suppose you are feeling lonely and isolated, you are tired of masking and distancing, and you want to get together with your friends. This whole COVID thing is getting to you and you are feeling down.
A part of you knows that things are not as bad as they seem, and you really have a lot to look forward to. Vaccines are on the horizon, we have survived more than eight months of COVID, we are likely to make it through to the end. There is no reason to despair. Yet, your inner Esau keeps pushing depressing thoughts and you feel tempted to surrender to them. You are tired of fighting and you want to give in.
There is an easy solution that will offer immediate relief. Get active: Hop on the treadmill, get the endorphins rolling, get on a Zoom call with a friend, do something productive, and distract your mind from the brooding thoughts. Yet, a nagging thought burrows into your mind: but this will just stave off the inevitable, I won’t really have solved my problem, I will just have artificially improved my mood.
This is where we need to remember that there is value in pushing ourselves up and out of the sadness trap even if our cheer isn’t a hundred percent sincere. Even if Esau’s kiss was not a hundred percent sincere, even if it was artificially produced by the magnitude of the moment and the purity of the scene that unfolded before him, something permanent came from it. Lives were saved. So what if Esau nursed nagging thoughts of hatred in the back of his mind? So long as they didn’t come to the fore, so long as he didn’t act on them, the value of his reconciliation was real. The benefits were concrete.
So, you hop on the treadmill and you do your thing. You make a cup of coffee and you throw yourself into a project. Adrenaline is coursing through your veins and you feel happier already. Your demons have disappeared, and you feel like you have been kissed. You feel as if your inner demons have given you a reprieve. A kiss like the one Jacob received.
But then at night, the gloom returns, and you think in despair, what was the point? It is a permanent rule that I am stuck in my negative spiral. Tomorrow, I will need to drag myself out of it again. I am doomed to always feel sad and will always need to manage my mood artificially.
Here comes the second explanation from our sages. Even if it is a permanent rule that Esau hates Jacob, it is possible for the transformation to be complete. For Esau, it was only momentary, but for our inner Esau, it can be a complete transformation. Fake till you make it, they say. If we get into the habit of doing the right things and feeling the right way, it can become second nature after a while. We are not doomed to a permanent cycle of pulling ourselves up out of the COVID blues. We really can turn a corner and change our perspective. We really can make this work. We can be fully really and permanently kissed.
Think of the soul. It keeps trying to inspire and encourage us to feel connected to G-d, to feel loved by G-d, to love G-d in return, and to follow in G-d’s ways. It doesn’t always succeed, but when it does, its success is fleeting. Yet, it never gives up. Tomorrow it wakes up and tries again; and never grows tired of trying again. It knows that when we follow its inspiration, it is not authentic to us, we are just following the soul’s lead. But that doesn’t deter the soul. It knows that if it can create a pattern of success, it might stick to us one day. It knows that a series of artificial good deeds can create an authentic one.
Thankfully most of the people reading this, don’t struggle to the degree that I described. But there are those who do. You might think to yourself one day that you should pick up the phone and cheer that person up. But then you might think, what is the value in cheering them up today if I will need to do it all over again tomorrow?
Pick up the phone anyway. Remember that today’s cheering up has value in and of itself. Even if the cheer is manufactured by your call and not completely authentic, it still has value. What’s more, if you pick up the phone often enough and long enough, you have can break even a permanent cycle. One day, you will call and discover that the person on the other end is already happy. Your calls have woken him or her up. So, pick up the phone. Make the call. Send them a kiss and spread the cheer.